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by Susan Pleasant

At some point on the lean journey you must have looked at your “lean work” as just that, an extra task on the list or another project on your list that earned its place based on the fires you had to fight and immediate pressures.  Many times lean begins as work done in 3-5 day events, as the work that is done early in the morning or at the end of the day or by someone else such as a lean co-ordinator– extra work.  Sometimes it plateaus at that point for some individuals and organizations.  To be clear, in the right situation it is appropriate to have lean events. Those of us who have made it “to the other side” know that there is more to lean thinking than events, special projects, or preparation for an assessment.  There is a point in time that you and those you work with truly integrate lean into how you work.

First you have to know what it looks like to integrate lean into your real work.  There is not one right answer nor is this a destination.  When lean is integrated into how you work, you probably experience an “aha moment” or get “shiny eyes” because you have just understood the benefit you get from lean thinking and approaches.  Lean has now become what you choose, not what you must do because someone else says so. Use of lean becomes something you pursue in the routine of work – tracking waiting time, motion or transportation time, making pareto charts of issues, developing spontaneous A3’s, categorizing emails into value add and non-value add, taking time to observe and understand the current situation before jumping to a solution, etc.  PDCA structured small rapid improvements begin to surface as well as structured standard work and high agreement approaches such as TPM, 5S, and visual management. You know what your customer wants, how to measure it, the steps to take and what gaps occur.

The challenge for many lean leaders is how to create the experience that will enable the “aha moment” for their team.  Many approaches are available.  Have them identify opportunities, frustrations, and issues they see and deal with routinely. Coach them on the use of lean approaches to take the waste out or solve the problem.  If someone says they don’t have time to “do lean” have them track how they spend time for 2-3 days.  Coach the analysis and elimination of root causes for time consuming activities.  Have lunch and learn sessions, asking everyone to bring one way they used lean to improve their personal work.  Look for lean in action plans to achieve goals – not an action plan to be lean, but to use lean to get the results that are needed. Use after action reviews to give people a chance to reflect on what met expectation in addition to the misses.  Stop having separate lean status meetings.  Make lean part of your routine daily huddles, progress reviews, and weekly updates. Take people with you to “go see.”  “Go see” meetings, HR, finance, a customer returns receiving process – you can choose many areas that do not require a factory floor. Take someone from the area with you.  Both of you may have aha moments from this venture.

As you consider some of the approaches that have been mentioned, recognize a few fundamentals as you create a path for yourself and your team to truly integrate lean into the routine way you work:

  • People shift what they believe about lean based on new experiences.  If their only experience of lean is as a program, a 3-5 day event or something that is done to pass an assessment then it is extra work.  Give them new experiences.
  • Create different opportunities for them to reflect on the application of lean and learn.
  • Participate with them.  Be visible. Coach the process.  People rarely admit they don’t know how, but respond well to coaching from a trusted mentor.
  • Connect the use of lean with something they are interested in and will benefit from.

Do you remember when you “went to the other side”?  What was the experience you had that moved you from lean as extra work to lean as how I work?